Morning Must Reads: Asset Test Snark, School Police and Property Taxes

Lancaster Rep. Mike Sturla was quoted in Capitolwire (paywall) on a Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW) proposal to limit access to SNAP, or food stamp, benefits to households with fewer than $5,500 in assets:

"We're going to take the concept of the safety net and flip it and tell people they have to impoverish themselves before they get the benefits."

This quote caught the eye of the Commonwealth Foundation's Nathan Benefield. He noted in response:

Just to make sure I wasn't misunderstanding the outspoken representative, I Googled the definition of impoverish and came up with "To reduce to poverty; make poor."

Indeed! Welfare programs like food stamps were designed to help poor people, and the administration's policy will work to ensure it serves only poor people.

As I often tell interns and students, Google is a powerful tool, but it's only as powerful as your own understanding of a policy debate. A key concern with the DPW's asset test, as Rep. Sturla correctly notes, is that it could potentially force low-income families who have experienced a job loss or a serious illness to spend down their meager assets in order to qualify for food assistance. Forcing hungry low-income families to spend down their savings makes them more vulnerable to having unexpected expenses that could trigger a mortgage default, eviction or loss of access to transportation. In other words, the less savings a family has, the greater the risk that an unexpected bill will make it harder for them to get back on their feet and off of public assistance.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted Thursday that the DPW expects some 4,000 people to be denied SNAP benefits and the people impacted appear to have little resemblance to the millionaires and billionaires that fund the Commonwealth Foundation.  Surely, there is a way to prevent instant lottery millionaires from collecting SNAP benefits that doesn't also include making little old ladies go hungry.

A total of 4,000 households are expected to lose their food stamps under the revised proposal by the state Department of Public Welfare...

In Pennsylvania, people can access SNAP if they make 160 percent of the federal poverty level or less. For a family of four, the poverty level is $22,350...

Mr. Sturla said the proposal would discourage poor people from saving.

Karen Naeser, 63, of Richmond in Tioga County, said her assets surpass the level that would disqualify her from food stamps. Ms. Naeser, who is disabled, began receiving food stamps this summer after losing her job as a receptionist at a personal care home. She said she has more than $9,000 in stocks and uses her savings to pay her taxes.

"I'm going to have to dip into the money, and then after it's gone, what am I supposed to do?" she said. "What am I supposed to do when something happens to the furniture, the hot water heater?"

A director of Just Harvest, a Pittsburgh organization that addresses poverty and hunger in Allegheny County, said the proposal would make it harder for poor people to weather such unexpected bills.

"The kinds of emergencies middle-class people use their savings on make poor people destitute," said Ken Regal, co-director of the organization. "What the asset test fundamentally says to poor people is unless you're risking destitution, we don't believe you really need help."

In other news this morning, the Philadelphia School District is expected to layoff 90 police officers today.

With a $61 million shortfall to bridge by the end of June, the Philadelphia School District will let go about 90 school police officers Friday, according to a source familiar with the plan.

Finally, a handy graphic of proposed property tax increases in Lancaster County (full story here). 


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